My diagnosis came on much like it does for many other young women. During high school, I began to notice an increasing amount of chest pain, a racing heartbeat, and shortness of breath. Characteristic of a developing adolescent, I denied that these symptoms were abnormal. I attributed my inability to breathe and instances of passing out as being out of shape. However, after a year of tests, hospital visits, and appointments with doctors and specialists, I was diagnosed with Primary Pulmonary Hypertension.
As a senior in high school preparing to leave for college, the diagnosis was devastating. Even though my doctor gave me the green light to go away to college and a positive long-term prognosis, I began to find that the emotional toll of having a progressive disease was more difficult than its physical manifestations. Even though I attempted to cope with the anxiety that stemmed from my diagnosis with PH, it began to extend to other aspects of my life. I began to doubt what I could make of and do in my future, and this doubt precipitated new insecurities.
Although there wasn’t a dramatic turning point, the woman with PH I am now is a stark contrast from that newly diagnosed teenager. I changed the way I took care of myself. I began to eat healthier by eliminating junk and adding fresh produce to my daily diet. I also started practicing yoga and working out. Of course, my workouts are modified. I’m not running miles upon miles or doing intense cardio, and probably never will. But I keep a consistent schedule of yoga and lead a rock-climbing and yoga club for my students at the school I teach. I do what I can, and I’m certainly doing much more than I ever thought would be possible after receiving my initial diagnosis
This past summer I spent 6 weeks in Europe. I climbed Mount Vesuvius, a large volcano in Italy, climbed over 600 stairs to the top of a church in Florence, hiked in the Alps, and visited 6 countries. The people with me understood that although I said yes to every adventure, I was going to do it at my own pace. When I climbed Mount Vesuvius, I stopped a little at first, but as the altitude increased, I had to stop every few steps. In our group, I was the very last person to make it to the crater and I didn’t care. I was only focused on completing my journey to the top no matter how long it took me.
Now a decade into my journey with Pulmonary Hypertension, I’m currently in the process of planning a trip this winter to Zambia, Africa. Disease or not, everyone has one life. Dwelling on what will or will not happen will only cause unnecessary worries. Had I never broken free from my initial doubts or my perceived, grim outlook on my future, I know that I never would have taken the chance to start yoga, or to attempt an ambitious climb to the top of a volcano. However, I was allowed to do both of these things, and I will continue to experience life, because I am committed to doing the absolute most that I can with my disability. I will not allow Pulmonary Hypertension – or the psychological toll that comes along with it - to take away my potential and the opportunities that come my way.